Can it be pure coincidence that the BBC has chosen to broadcast two scathing documentaries presented and written by Orla Guerin — The Shadow over Egypt and Crushing Dissent in Egypt — alleging forced disappearances and torture literally weeks before the presidential election?
The Shadow over Egypt was nothing less than a hatchet job. Guerin is seen hyping the drama by lowering her voice conspiratorially as she is driven late at night to ostensibly meet with Mona Mahmoud Ahmad, a distraught mother.
The woman wipes her eyes describing how her daughter Zubeida had been abducted by masked police a year ago and has never been seen since. She alleged her daughter had previously been detained, raped and tortured. The report was heart wrenching. There is just one problem. It is proven to be a Muslim Brotherhood hoax.
The popular Egyptian TV host, Amr Adeeb, tracked down the ‘missing’ young woman who appeared on his programme Kol Youm accompanied by her husband, who admitted that he was a member of the Brotherhood’s defunct Freedom and Justice Party, and their two-week-old infant Hamza. She explained that she had fallen out with her family and had left home a year ago to get married.
Zubeida had not been arrested as Mona Ahmad claimed and denied ever having been tortured, electrocuted or raped. In fact, she was living near her mother, a member of the banned Brotherhood who has not only been recounting the same fake sob story on its channels airing from Turkey, disguised under cover of a niqab, she has also called upon US President Donald Trump to intervene.
Egypt’s State Information Service has asked the BBC to apologise for “its absolute falsification and fabrication” but despite evidence to the contrary the network says it stands by the integrity of its report.
However, the BBC has now agreed to discuss the matter following a decision by Egyptian authorities to bar its ministers, officials and prominent Egyptians from giving interviews to the channel. Others covered in the report, characterised as “activists” or ‘former prisoners” by Guerin, remained nameless.
It is worth noting that many of the so-called forcibly disappeared Egyptians have left the country to join-up with extremist groups, among them Omar Ebrahim Al Deeb killed by security forces in Sinai and Magdy Al Dalaay seen on video with Daesh [the self-proclaimed Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant] terrorists.
According to Egypt’s State Information’s response to the documentary, Guerin “relied on what she called the “Egyptian Coordination for Rights and Freedoms” and on Mohammad Lotfi one of its leaders (for her information and contacts) , “a political organisation affiliated to the Muslim Brotherhood under the guise of “safeguarding human rights”.
Wholly reliant on British government funding, the network has launched numerous attacks on Cairo ever since the ousting of the Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohammed Mursi who drove the country to the ground and invited Al Qaida to set up camp in the northern Sinai.
I have rarely seen any of its anchors seeking opinion from Egyptian officials preferring to invite Brotherhood leaders and sympathisers or anti-government activists to air their views virtually unchallenged. BBC Arabic did call celebrity lawyer Khalid Abu Bakr who spoke on air to one of its news presenters Norma Al Haj to discuss the prosecution’s 15-day detention of Zubeida’s mother now being investigated for spreading false news harmful to the state.
In the event, Abu Bakr had a hard time being heard over Al Haj’s constant loud protests. When he said, “the mother of Zubeida and the BBC from my point of view deserve to be charged in this case,” he was cut-off mid-sentence.
Whether the BBC harbours a political agenda against Egypt reflective of Britain which has refused to brand the Brotherhood “terrorist” and bans flights to Sharm Al Shaikh, suspended in reaction to the Russian Metrojet downing over Sinai three years ago.
Alternatively, Guerin’s documentaries could merely reflect her own biases or possibly slap of shoddy reporting. She did not take into account that Egypt is recovering from years of social and economic turmoil and the state remains under attack from Brotherhood fifth columnists and groups affiliated with Daesh that have claimed responsibility for killing thousands of Coptic Christians, Sufis, policemen, soldiers as well as the bombing of the Russian passenger plane.
Egypt does not pretend to be Switzerland at this juncture but certainly does not deserve this slanderous onslaught on the part of the BBC which could be accused of attempting to influence the upcoming election in the same way that Russia’s RT was criticised for interfering in America’s.
Egyptians have taken to calling local channels and have taken to social media to express their outrage at what they see as an attempt to undermine their sovereignty. “Such baseless claims that Egyptian security forces kidnap, torture and disappear people have become a staple of anti-Egyptian propaganda just like weapons of mass destruction and incubator babies were used against Iraq…” writes Ines Hanna.
If it was the BBC’s intention to discredit the government prior to the presidential ballot then given the hostility elicited by its reports, it has unwittingly manufactured a self-goal.
Linda S. Heard is an award-winning British political columnist and guest television commentator with a focus on the Middle East.